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Sunday,  July 14, 2024 4:25 AM 

On Location: TTAND honours top agents at awards gala in Jordan; national media tunes in

On Location: TTAND honours top agents at awards gala in Jordan; national media tunes in
The Travel Agent Next Door held an awards gala in Jordan Wednesday (June 5) at its 2024 national conference. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

It was a big high, from the lowest point on earth.

Applause and cheers filled an opulent ballroom at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar in Jordan Wednesday night (June 5) – steps away from the shorelines of the salty Dead Sea, Earth’s lowest elevation – as The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) honoured its best at an awards gala that coincided with its 2024 national conference and 10-year anniversary.

Three sets of awards were announced at the formal (but fun) cocktail and dinner soirée, which included a custom-made ten-shaped archway at the venue’s entry and more than 300 attendees.

TTAND's Peer-To-Peer award went to Judith Coates. (Pax Global Media)

Top performers honoured on stage at TTAND's awards gala. (Pax Global Media)

Primary and associate agents, and agencies, in TTAND’s 1,400-member network were honoured in a variety of categories, from the highest average commission to “Millionaires” (primary agents who earn $125,000, and agencies who earn $375,000, in preferred and approved commissions).

READ MORE: On Location - "The unexpected awaits": TTAND conference begins in Jordan, reigniting local tourism

There was also an Ambassador Award (given to the agent who provided the most referrals in a year. This went to Lynn Filion) and a Peer-To-Peer award (the most supportive travel advisor, voted on by TTAND’s network. This went to Judith Coates).

See the award winners below. A profit-sharing cheque, totalling $45,000, was also presented. 

The team at Stewart Travel Group at TTAND's awards gala. (Pax Global Media)

The night’s guest list included 227 travel advisors, 31 supplier brands (37 reps total), TTAND staff, partners from G Adventures, Royal Jordanian Airlines, the Jordan Tourism Board and Atlas Tours, and even Jordan's military band, which performed for guests at a pre-awards cocktail party. 

There were also special guests, including His Excellency Tarik Ali Khan, Canadian Ambassador to Jordan; Louis Lacasse, senior trade commissioner; Dr. Abed Razzaq Arabiyat, managing director at the Jordan Tourism Board;  and Malia Asfour, managing director for the Jordan Tourism Board – North America (who is also Chair of the Board of Directors at Tourism Cares).

Flemming Friisdahl, TTAND’s president and founder. (Pax Global Media)

Wearing a tuxedo, Flemming Friisdahl, TTAND’s president and founder, took to a stage to thank his network of agents, who have been in conference mode, participating in workshops and one-one-ones since arriving in Jordan on a private 787 Dreamliner, courtesy of Royal Jordanian Airlines, on Monday (June 3).

“What’s really important to us, is that without all of you – not just top performers and rising stars – we wouldn’t be here. We so appreciate you trusting us,” Friisdahl told the room.

TTAND's gala transformed a ballroom at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar in Jordan. (Pax Global Media)

Bring on Jordan

In normal circumstances, the glam gala would usually mark the end of TTAND’s conference (an annual event that is typically held at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean).

But this year, with the program unfolding in Jordan – an ancient destination with ties to Biblical times – the decision was made to celebrate success, mid-week, so delegates could embark on a multi-day tour with G Adventures and its DMC, Atlas Tours. 

Agents gather for dinner in a tent on Bedouin night. (Pax Global Media)

Since Monday, TTAND’s conference, entitled "Trailblazers," which PAX is covering on location, has mostly been contained to the boardrooms of the 420-room Crowne Plaza Dead Sea (which faces the famous salty lake, where swimmers naturally float due to the water’s high salinity).

Every night has been different, from a white-dress welcome reception on the Crowne Plaza’s sea-facing terrace to a Bedouin-themed party on the beach, where attendees donned Arabic robes and headpieces in a setting that resembled a traditional Bedouin camp – rugs, tents and all. 

Agents attend Bedouin night at the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea. (Pax Global Media)

But today (June 6), the agenda will switch gears as attendees pack their bags, board one of eight buses, and begin the four-hour drive to Petra, a UNESCO site that’s half-built, half-carved into rock. The famous site will host a private event for TTAND tomorrow night.

From there, the group will continue on to Wadi Rum (known for its sandstone mountains) and conclude in the coastal city of Aqaba, where a closing session will be held. G Adventures’ Founder, Bruce Poon Tip, will cap things off with closing remarks.

Jordana Botting of Viking (centre) with Jonathan Sargeant of Royal Irish Tours (right) (Pax Global Media)

A big deal for tourism recovery

From a tourism standpoint, the conference, which was two-and-a-half years in the making, is important as Jordan’s local economy suffers the blowback of the still-active Israel-Gaza war, a conflict that began last October.

Jordan isn’t at war, maintaining a diplomatic role during the crisis. As local guides have said many times this week, Jordan is “the Switzerland of the Middle East.”

A Bedouin-themed party unfolded on the beach of the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea. (Pax Global Media)

Still, the nation shares a border with Israel and that close proximity has been enough to make consumers cancel or postpone trips to the region.

"The impact has been very bad. We’ve seen lots of cancellations. We feel it as CEOs,” said our guide Ayman, a CEO (Chief Experience Officer) with G Adventures. “Hopefully, this war will stop soon.”

G Adventures David Green (centre) greet agents at TTAND's Bedouin party at the Crowne Plaza Dead Sea. (Pax Global Media)

Omar Banihani, director of marketing for Canada at the Jordan Tourism Board, called TTAND’s conference “the best thing for us to do” amid the decline in tourism. 

Jordan’s tourism board is focused on the long-term, he said, which includes building trust with Canada’s travel trade so that when consumer confidence returns, agents are ready.

Omar Banihani, director of marketing for Canada at the Jordan Tourism Board, (Pax Global Media)

“We don’t want to sit with The Travel Agent Next Door and say, ‘Bring us business.’ We want to gain their trust, show them how beautiful Jordan is and show our commitment to social enterprises,” Banihani told PAX.

Community tourism has been a big focus this week. On Monday, moments after agents landed at Queen Alia International Airport near Amman, Jordan’s capital city, they hit the ground running and visited projects supported by Planeterra, G’s non-for-profit arm that fuels local entrepreneurship.

TTAND advisors enjoying lunch at Beit Khayrat Souf. (Pax Global Media)

One group visited Beit Khayrat Souf, a women-owned-and-operated café in the mountainous town of Souf, while another stopped at Safi Kitchen, which aims to preserve local culture and resources through community programs (TTAND also collected donation items for this organization). 

“This is what tourism is about,” said Malia Asfour of the Jordan Tourism Board and Tourism Cares, at last night’s gala. “Connecting locally and diversifying traffic from places that have overtourism to communities that will benefit from tourism dollars.”

David Green, G Adventures; Malia Asfour, Jordan Tourism Board & Tourism Cares. (Pax Global Media)

National media takes notice  

On a local level, it’s a big deal that Canada’s largest host agency has brought nearly 300 travel professionals to Jordan to see the country firsthand and share their experiences on social media.

Yesterday, before the awards, a press conference involving Arabic and English-speaking media was held at the Kempinski, where Friisdahl, and David Green, global vice-president of sales and customer operations and managing director for Canada at G Adventures, unpacked their strategy.

READ MORE: On Location - TTAND announces supplier partner awards, company updates in Jordan

Speaking to a room full of flashing cameras, and a table of microphones, Friisdahl told the Jordanian press that some agents cancelled their spot at the conference after the war in Israel broke out “because they were afraid of what was happening would spill over.”

“There was some pressures to cancel the conference,” Friisdahl told the media.

But after reviewing Jordan’s situation, including the country’s track record on safety and security, Friisdahl was confident in his decision to go ahead as planned.

Tours have continued to run in Jordan during the Israel-Gaza war, but what validated Friisdahl’s own comfort level was asking agents what they thought about the situation. He put his conference to a vote.

“80 per cent said they were happy to go,” Friisdahl told PAX previously. “That gave me confidence, knowing we weren’t asking people to do something that they didn’t want to do.”

From left: David Green, Flemming Friisdahl, Dr. Abed Razzaq Arabiyat and Karim Makhlouf. (Pax Global Media)

Friisdahl expressed his confidence in Jordan at yesterday’s meeting with local media.

“We’re not here because I wanted to support Jordan. We’re here because I believe Jordan is a safe place to be,” Friisdahl told journalists. “It isn’t fair to make Jordan pay a price for what’s happening on their neighbour’s side.”

Despite the war, the desire to see Jordan, known for its archaeological sites, nature reserves, seaside resorts and coastal cities, was still high among agents, Friisdahl said.

Agents mix and mingle at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar in Jordan. (Pax Global Media)

Agents are excited to experience Jordan. (Pax Global Media)

“Every time somebody cancelled their spot, because a family member thought they shouldn’t go, we saw a new person join,” he said.

The friendliness of locals and high service levels in Jordan have, so far, left agents “blown away,” Friisdahl said.

“You should all be very proud. You have great people who take care of these tours,” he told the media.

The Jordanian military band performs for travel advisors at the Kempinski Hotel Ishtar hotel. (Pax Global Media)

Keeping the enthusiasm alive 

Speaking to PAX later on, Friisdahl said TTAND’s partnership with the Jordan Tourism Board doesn’t end once the conference concludes on June 9.

It’s all part of a one-year strategy that will continue on into 2025, he said. 

“Our idea wasn’t to love them and leave them, but to make sure there’s an investment for both parties,” he said.

TTAND Founder Flemming Friisdahl gives two thumbs up for Jordan. (Pax Global Media)

That plan includes offering agents ongoing training about Jordan to “keep the enthusiasm alive” and to engage with new agents that join TTAND.

“I’ve heard many agents say they will sell this destination when they get back home,” Friisdahl said. “Do I think Jordan will see a big increase? 100 per cent.”

And the winners are

Here's the TTAND advisors and agencies that took home an award: 

Highest Average Rate of Commission, Primary Agent - Mandy Delve

Highest Average Rate of Commission, Silver/Gold Agent - Steve Melling

Highest Average Rate of Commission, Agency - Elevation Travel & Tours Inc.

Highest Average Rate of Commission, Associate Agent - Mary Derabbie

Highest Earned Commission, Primary Agent - Anna MacKay

Highest Earned Commission, Silver/Gold Agent - Brian Paul

Highest Earned Commission, Agency - Stewart Travel Group

Highest Earned Commission, Associate Agent - Vanessa Dewson

Highest % of Preferred/Approved Suppliers, Primary Agent - Denise Cesselli

Highest % of Preferred/Approved Suppliers, Silver/Gold Agent - Belinda Cerrito

Highest % of Preferred/Approved Suppliers, Agency - Jeffrey Cohen

Highest % of Preferred/Approved Suppliers, Associate Agent - Christine Pilon

Ambassador Award - Lynn Filion

Peer-To-Peer Award - Judith Coates

To see more pictures from the conference, visit and “like” PAX’s Facebook page here.

Stay tuned for more of PAX’s on location coverage from The Travel Agent Next Door’s 2024 “Trailblazers” conference and 10-year anniversary in Jordan.

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